Today – May 26, 2014 – is of course the day after the elections for the European Parliament. People often call days like today “the day after the night before”...
If there is one trend that stuck out after yesterday’s elections, it is the rise of the anti-European and anti-immigration parties – especially in Western Europe:
- The extreme rightwing party ‘Le Front National’ of Marine Le Pen won the European elections in France before the centred conservative party UMP. The social-democrat Parti Socialiste of François Hollande was almost blown to smithereens;
- Nigel Farage’s UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), an avid anti-Europe party, became the largest party in the United Kingdom, with a considerable victory upon the Labour Party. Labour itself was trailed by David Cameron’s Tories, which became the third party in the UK;
- In Greece, the Eurosceptical, radical Leftwing party Syriza won the elections, while the nationalist, ultra Rightwing Party Golden was also a clear winner of the elections (+9%);
- In Denmark, the far-right Danish People’s party won the elections;
- In Italy, the anti-European Five Star party of ex-comedian Beppe Grillo won 17 seats in European parliament, trailing only to the Democrat Party of PM Matteo Renzi;
- In The Netherlands, the anti-European Party for Freedom is among the three largest parties, with each four seats;
In other European countries the rise of the anti-European parties was not so blatantly visible, but also there some of those parties scored remarkable results. To the objective eye, it seems that something dramatic has happened in Europe yesterday and that the anti-European, anti-immigration and anti-establishment parties in general have won the verdict.
Nevertheless, it is yet too early to see the consequences of it.
Therefore we should not jump to conclusions, with regard to the general path that the European Union should follow in the next five years. Do we all want more European integration and a Union with stronger economic and political bonds? Or do we all want less integration and a larger role for the national parliaments. The people of Europe did clearly speak, but what they exactly said is quite difficult to understand.
At least, the results of these elections lead to the following questions: are the European citizens fed up with the European Union, as an institute? Or are the European citizens fed up with the way in which the European Union is managed currently and how it handled the crisis until now?
In other words: is the EU blamed for what it is? Or for what it has done against the crisis so far?
That is something that the politicians and serious opinion makers should find out in the coming months. In the meantime, I am happy to give my personal opinion upon this subject. I still strongly believe in the European Union and in the Euro…
Every reason for the formation of the (predecessors of the) EU during the fifties and sixties of last century and for the introduction of the pan-European currency, is still as valid today as it was in those days:
- The desire to make an end to destructive nationalism and to the multi-century tradition of pan-European wars and conflicts between the large (and smaller) nations of Europe;
- The idea that the German empire had to be controlled and embedded in a pan-European safety net;
- The idea that friendship and cooperation between countries was a better breeding ground for mutual prosperity than wars, conflicts and aggressive competition;
- The desire for stability within Europe: from a political, financial and economical point of view;
- The idea that a united Europe would be a stronger and more impressive adversary against the United States, Russia and the East-Asian countries Japan, South-Korea and China than a Europe-of-individual-countries that could be ‘divided and conquered’;
- The idea that a multi-national currency would improve cooperation and mutually beneficial trading relations within Europe.
Who can argue with the fact that these ideas are still utterly valid?! And that the concept behind the European Union is still a very viable concept that is worth fighting for!
Nevertheless, the European Union that most people have remembered from the last five crisis years, has been the Europe of the 28 frogs in a wheelbarrow.
The indecisive and hopelessly divided Europe, that was whining about fiscal prudence and the need to stick to the budget – as this was relatively easy to achieve and by itself undisputed among most members – and that was chasing pseudo-solutions, but failed to address the economic problems of some of the individual member states and its desperate citizens.
The Europe, which was governed under influence of the wishful thinking, that fiscal austerity would melt away all economic problems, like an icecone in the sun.
A Europe, in which the German political and financial dominance, the British repulsion and doubts about its membership and the French desire for avoiding the hard decisions at its home turf, decided upon the agenda and the measures that could be taken to solve the economic crisis: an agenda in which less… was just less and not more…
And a Europe in which corruption, corporate and private egoism and widespread tax evasion still played a much too prominent role.
These backgrounds all spurred the resentment against the current European Union, as a spineless and powerless institute that kicked the can down the road with respect to the crisis and scared away from solutions that really mattered.
In my opinion, four main causes can be identified for the poisonous cocktail that emerged after yesterday’s European elections:
- The fact that the credit crisis and especially the Euro-crisis have been treated as financial crises alone. There has been an unhealthy fixation upon the well-being of the banks and the financial markets, as well as the soundness of the European budgets, while the economic consequences of this fierce crisis for the European citizens in all countries have been largely ignored;
- The rise of (sometimes very locally oriented) nationalism and groupthinking in Europe, which is an inevitable effect of the deep and violent economic slump that we are in. Somebody has to be blamed for this crisis and – of course – that somebody is neither me nor my group of people!
- The national politicians from the 18 Euro-group countries and the 28 EU-countries – who combinedly form the European Council, as most influential European institute – have blamed Europe and especially the EU for their own (national) misfortunes, while bragging upon their successes in Europe and claiming those for themselves;
- The most visible European Leaders (i.e. Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton), the European Commission and the European Parliament have done much too little to defend their sheer existence, while their democratic void, their craving for the introduction of new (sometimes erratic) regulations and their blatant squandering of tax-money – take f.i. the presence money, the extravagant expense allowances or the monthly excursions to Strassbourg (!) – drove the European citizens to madness.
Yesterday’s elections should be the final wake-up call for ALL European leaders that something has to change within Europe and the European Union. However, that ‘something’ are not necessarily the goals and the ‘raison d’etre’ of the European Union itself.
Every politician – and as a matter of fact every European citizen – should ask himself in what kind of Europe he wants himself and his children to live.
Does he want to live in a “Europe-as-a-slot machine”? A Europe, where solidarity means that one claims as much European subsidies and structure funds as he can, in order to make Europe profitable for him and his country?!
Or does he want to live in a narrowminded “Europe-as-an-economic-market”, where the benefits of the union stop at the lock of his national treasure chest?!
Does he perhaps want to live in a Europe where all borders are closed again and where everybody is retreating behind their white picket fences?! A Europe of mistrust, anger and envy against the people with whom we share our lives and our European continent?!
Or does he wants to live in a Europe, in which 28 (or more) countries live together in relative peace, cooperation and prosperity. An increasingly democratic Europe in which countries help each other and in which problems are solved: very slowly, but surely. And a Europe with sensible leaders of whom people can be reasonably proud, because they represent us all quite good.
Not a German Europe, a French Europe, an Italian Europe or a British Europe, but a pan-European Europe in which every citizen and every country is equally important and equally represented.
I know in which Europe I want myself, my wife and my children to live!